Sabotage fear over mine blast

Two men were killed today in a helicopter crash near the River Wyre at Hambleton.'Superintendant Richard Spedding briefs the media regarding the crash. PIC BY ROB LOCK
Two men were killed today in a helicopter crash near the River Wyre at Hambleton.'Superintendant Richard Spedding briefs the media regarding the crash. PIC BY ROB LOCK
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INDUSTRIAL saboteurs could be to blame for the brinewell blast at Preesall which sent tonnes of salt-saturated mud spewing onto a field and country lanes.

Police are investigating claims by landowner Halite Energy that the failed brine wellhead at the centre of the blast may have been deliberately damaged shortly before the massive blowout earlier this summer.

News of the police being called in came on Monday - six weeks after the geological incident - in a statement from landowner Halite Energy. Halite told the police about their concerns last week.

The US financed company says the fact that a police investigation has been launched means its technical report into the blast will not yet be made public.

Community leaders, who had been expecting a report on the incident and its aftermath are angry at the effective block on viewing Halite’s report, and at the lack of detail revealed in a statement issued by Halite chairman Dr John Roberts.

Dr Roberts said: “We have now handed the findings of our investigation to Lancashire Police, and will co-operate fully with their enquiry.”

Superintendent Richard Spedding of Lancashire Police said an allegation had been made that the wellhead at Monks Lane, Preesall, “may have been criminally damaged prior to the blow-out it suffered on June 18, which we have a duty to investigate.”

He continued: “Inquiries will be taking place locally to ascertain whether any criminal activity has taken place which may have caused the wellhead to blow out.”

The police involvement has surprised Protect Wyre Group leader Mr Ian Mulroy and MP Ben Wallace, who both want to see the technical reports into the blast and its possible causes.

MP Ben Wallace, who immediately after the blowout demanded no ‘cover up’ by Halite, said the public should be given full access to all the documentation.

Commenting on Halite’s public statement, he said: “It is bizarre. The plot thickens...there are now more questions than answers.”

Mr Ian Mulroy, chairman of the Protect Wyre Group, said: “As a result of this information coming to light they have passed some information to the police and it is now a ‘live’ investigation. As a result of this the technical report on the blowout is now not available to the public. The mind boggles!”

Halite would not say exactly when during its investigation the company’s suspicions were aroused over possible criminal activity, but the company confirmed they contacted the police last week - though would not say what date.

The company has also declined to say what evidence it has discovered to prompt the firm to contact the police.

Halite, which owns several hundreds of acres of land in Over Wyre, some of which near and under the riverbank could be used for its gas store scheme, is now planning more security fences and signs close to other brinewells “to protect them and deter the public from approaching these areas.”

Dr Roberts said: “We are undertaking a full risk assessment and will update our maintenance programme to prevent any similar instances from occurring in the future, in particular in relation to the old wells that are understood to be of similar configuration to brine well 45. This will include reviewing all the old wellheads.”

Commenting on fears that the brinewell blast might be linked to or lead to subsidence, which has occurred from time to time on the former ICI brinefield, Dr Roberts said: “Our detailed technical assessment has concluded that the cavern at brinewell 45 is stable and the cavern roof and cavern floor are still intact and unchanged, removing concerns around any future cavern collapse or ground subsidence in the adjacent area.”

Mr Wallace, commenting on the wider situation, he said: “All this goes to show the land is unstable and putting up a few fences will not change the geology of the area.”

Dr Roberts added Halite were keeping the Health and Safety Executive up to date with its response to the incident. Halite says it has kept local MPs fully up to date with developments.

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